Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

This blog entry continues the topic I started yesterday.

I take no issue with my sister’s therapist having a different opinion of what might be going on with me than what I believe is happening. My sister’s therapist has never met me, and everything she knows about me is filtered through my sister (who posts on this blog as Lydia). Lydia’s therapist’s focus is on Lydia, not me, and on helping Lydia navigate the waters of trying to maintain a relationship with both me and momster when I am 100% cutting momster out of my life. Trying to understand the mental health status of both of us is fair game in Lydia’s therapy as far as I am concerned.

My therapist’s opinion of what is going on with me carries more weight than Lydia’s therapist’s opinion based upon secondhand information, and I am sure the same is true for Lydia if my therapist made any sort of comments about her own state of mental health. The therapist that has gotten to know the patient is in a much better position to observe and diagnose the state of mental health of the patient than someone receiving secondhand information.

The biggest difference between the momster/me situation and the Lydia/me situation is that I have a mental health professional who has evaluated me over a period of years, and momster does not. This means that if my sister needed a professional opinion on my state of mental health, I have someone who could provide it whereas there is no mental health professional involved with momster. We only have her word that she is “normal,” but her behavior screams otherwise.

My sister (Lydia) had some interesting comments after reading my accounting of what my friend said was in momster’s letter. Her reaction was the context definitely sheds a different light on the same facts. Lydia has heard the stories about the cows and the play directly from momster and received them in a very different light. She could see how my friend could have the reaction she did but also has a different perspective on what was intended in the letter.

I told Lydia, and Lydia 100% supported this, that the intention of momster is irrelevant for my decision-making on continued contact. The comments might be as innocent as Lydia believes, or they might be as calculated as my friend believes. Either way, my focus needs to be on MY reaction to the letter, not on what was going on in momster’s head when she wrote the letter. For better or for worse, contact from momster is toxic to me, and I don’t want it in my life. Lydia supports my decision, and we haven’t even talked about momster once other than this conversation after she called me about the logistical issue she was having in trying to post.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Man at DeskThanks to the momster drama, back to school activities, traveling, getting a promotion at my job, and getting sick last week, I am embarrassingly behind on reading through the comments. When I logged into my email account (where I receive email copies of all comments as well as emails from readers), I had over 500 messages – Yikes! It is going to take me a while to catch up.

My sister, who occasionally visits and posts as “Lydia,” called me about a logistical issue she was having with one of her comments, which is how I found out about discussions concerning what her therapist said about my momster situation. You can read the discussions here.

Different readers have posted different comments regarding my sister’s therapist’s views about me as well as my therapist’s views about my mother possibly having schizophrenia, so I would like to address those in my next two blog entries.

In neither case did a therapist “diagnose” someone that s/he had not talked with. In both cases, the patient (me re: momster and Lydia re: me) sought to talk with the therapist about concerns with someone in her life who might have mental health issues. The therapist’s observations were based solely on the patient’s representation of the other person’s behavior, which is always going to be filtered through the patient’s accounts of the third party’s behavior. The goal of those discussions is to help the patient work through her feelings about interactions with the other person.

Let’s focus on my situation in this blog entry…I have always known that momster’s interactions with the world was “off,” and I have numerous reasons to believe that she is likely mentally ill. I could go on for days with examples, but one of the most concerning symptoms is her hearing “G*d” audibly talking to her and telling her to do odd things. As a child, I thought that she was more religious than I was and a prophet since G*d talked to people in the Bible, but as I grew older, I recognized that the messages she was receiving were definitely odd. Her interactions with other people are simply not rational and never have been.

Momster has never sought out a diagnosis from the mental health community because she does not believe there is anything wrong with her. She truly believes that the reason that nobody else is hearing G*d audibly talking to them is because they are not prophets like she is. Emotionally healthy people tend to stay away from her because her behavior is so erratic.

I talked with my therapist about her symptoms to help me make sense of them and unravel my own reactions to having been raised by a mentally-ill woman. He never diagnosed her with anything, but he said her symptoms are consistent with schizophrenia. I did my own research and agree with him. No, she has never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but that does not mean that she is not mentally ill. I needed to have a frame of reference from my end to help me heal from my interactions with her regardless of whether she ever chooses to seek professional help, and I did not need to limit my own ability to heal from our relationship based upon whether or not she chose to seek help.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I don’t write much about my therapist anymore because I “graduated” from therapy a few years ago. I know he is always there for me if I need a session, which is one reason why I mostly don’t feel the need to go back. As long as I have the safety net, I feel safe to fly on my own.

Also, I have internalized so many of his messages. I can “hear” his “voice” when I am in a bad place, so I don’t need the physical proximity to get the therapy. I know exactly what he will say – He will tell me how great I am doing while I look at him like he has two heads. He will challenge all of my negativity about myself and point out how far I have come. He will call me a walking miracle. He will never validate my fears of being certifiably “crazy.”

He will show a reaction to the pain I share – not the stoic look on the faces of shrinks on TV but the reaction of someone who is validating that the abuse really was “that bad.” He will then keep redirecting me to removing the label of “crazy” from myself and put that label squarely on my abusers’ shoulders.

He will 100% believe whatever I tell him happened and 100% believe in my ability to be OK. He is 100% confident that I will overcome every single painful memory and that I will never be “normal” because I am too extraordinary of a person to be limited by normality.

I have referred friends to my therapist over the years, telling them that if he can “fix me,” then he can “fix” anyone. Of course, he would say that I did all of the “fixing” myself in an extraordinary way, but I am painfully aware that I could have just as easily scared off a lesser therapist.

One friend contacted him a couple of weeks ago while her own therapist was indisposed. She told him that I made the referral. I don’t know what he said to her specifically about me, but she told me that he thinks the world of me.

Another close friend has been seeing him regularly for a few years. In her last session, she talked about me for a little while (which I am 100% OK with – I trust them both). She needed someone to talk to about the flashback I shared with her, and it’s not like this is something she can discuss with just anyone.

It was kind of cool hearing his comments. I could completely hear his voice as she related them to me. He was very validating about that “crazy” memory and my reaction to it. She also told him that I had a bad dream, and his response was, “That’s the only kind of dream she ever has.”

I can’t quite articulate why, but that one comment was what inspired this blog entry. He gets it, and he gets me. I tell people all the time that I have nightmares every single night and that I can probably count on one hand the number of “good” dreams I have had in my life. I think most people believe I am exaggerating, but I am not … and my therapist gets that about me. One person on this planet really and truly gets me. Not only does he get me, but he also thinks the world of me. That’s a great feeling!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Child abuse survivors need therapy. Period. It does not matter if the abuse happened one time or was ongoing throughout your childhood. Healing from child abuse is extremely difficult, and you need a qualified therapist to help you through it.

I was determined not to enter into therapy when I first started having flashbacks about the child abuse. I was in the process of trying to adopt a child, and I feared that I would be “disqualified” if I was in therapy because I would be seen as “crazy.” (As it turns out, therapy is highly encouraged for hopeful adoptive parents and will not be held against you. You just need to have your therapist write a letter stating that your reason for seeking therapy will not negatively affect your ability to parent a child.)

I decided that I was going to do the healing work myself. The problem was that every resource I turned to began with, “Find a good therapist.” There is a very good reason for this advice …you need to work with a qualified therapist with experience working with people who have been abused because trying to do it yourself is simply too hard. If it was possible to heal through sheer force of will, then I would have done it.

If you try to heal from the child abuse yourself, you will find yourself in over your head. When you first come to terms with the reality that you were abused, you will go through a “breakthrough crisis.” For me, this felt like a pressure cooker of emotions had the lid blown off of it, and my emotions had exploded all over me. For six weeks, I truly did not know from minute to minute if I was going to survive it. Nevertheless, I was hell-bent on healing myself. I changed my mind after finding myself lying on the floor, shaking, crying, hyperventilating, and trying to decide on the best way to commit suicide. At this point, I realized that anything would be better than this and decided to enter therapy.

You will have many reasons not to enter therapy … costs too much … don’t have the time … etc. None of these reasons outweigh your need for therapy, especially during the early weeks and months in coming to terms with your history of trauma. If you were diagnosed with cancer, would you make the time to see a doctor? If you didn’t have insurance to treat the cancer, wouldn’t you seek out trial studies or lower income medical care to find affordable treatment? If you were abused as a child, you have emotional “cancer,” and the healing process is the “chemo.” Don’t try to treat the “cancer” yourself – work with a professional to help you heal.

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On my blog entry entitled Do Child Abuse Survivors Ever Get Over Healing and Therapy?, a reader posted the following comment:

I wonder how are you able to process your trauma while you are by yourself? Do you have other avenues for validation and sharing of your emotions? How can you break the silence if no-one is witnessing your memories? ~ Dawn

Until Dawn posted this question, I did not appreciate that some child abuse survivors do not process the trauma while they are alone. I was aware that some people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) use the therapist as a “middle man” for relaying traumatic memories. I guess I was always processing my stuff long before I entered into therapy. Even my therapist said that I had done a lot of work before I walked into his office. This was my natural pattern, so I guess I just assumed it was that way for everyone.

Long before I recovered any memories of the abuse, I knew that I was fundamentally f@#$ed in the head: I just didn’t know why. I bought self-help book after self-help book and worked through the exercises. Perhaps that is how I learned to do healing work on my own?? I even processed trauma for about a month on my own after recovering the first memory of my mother’s sexual abuse, but I admittedly did not handle it very well on my own. I needed a guide (a therapist) to show me the way.

To answer Dawn’s questions specifically, I will work backward – I broke the silence by posting each memory on Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. There is a forum entitled Our Stories where you are allowed to get as graphic as you need to as long as you put up a trigger warning. I wrote an entire book in the forum one memory at a time. Writing what happened and posting it on the Internet was my way of shouting from the rooftops that the abuse happened. I received validation from the members there: they always believed me and were always supportive.

Isurvive was both a place for a validation and sharing my emotions. I also did both with a close friend. Of course, I did this with my therapist as well, but I was only seeing him for one hour a week, and I was processing the trauma for multiple hours every day. I was a stay-at-home mom of a young child, so I held it together when he was awake and then processed the trauma during his naps and after he went to bed.

As for how I processed the trauma – I would invite the memories to come. I would lie in my bed at night in that half-asleep phase and invite the memories to come. I would experience the flashback and talk myself through it. I would go online and post the memory on Isurvive. Then, I would go to sleep. My therapist helped me learn to express my emotions, which would typically come the next day.

Is my experience very different from the norm? I guess I just assumed that others did it this way. Of course, most survivors probably don’t have the “luxury” of lots of free time as I did when my son was little (while he slept, anyhow). I didn’t have a job outside of taking care of my kid.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Faith Allen’s Story – God’s Intervention in My Healing, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith, Thank you so much for your website and the wonderful writing. I am a survivor too and still recovering. Your site is a great help. I am getting ready to get back to therapy. I wonder if we ever get over this and over therapy as well. Thank you much. God Bless ~ Paulette

My answer is both yes and no. When I first entered into therapy, my therapist told me that my goal to be a “normal person” and “over” the child abuse was unrealistic. (This was not what I wanted to hear!) He said that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not something that is “cured” but is, instead, “managed.” When I walked in his door, a trigger could last for weeks. He assured me that, some day in the future, I would work through being triggered in days and then, eventually, hours. He was right.

I have come to accept that there is no “normal” and that “normal” is overrated. I am who I am in part because of my life experiences. Because my life experiences are different from anyone else’s experiences, it is unrealistic to expect for me to act and react like some “norm” in society since the “norm” did not experience what I did.

My experience in therapy was that I went weekly for six months, every other week for 18 months, and then monthly for a while until we both felt I was ready to stop. Since ending therapy, I have seen my therapist a handful of times when I felt I needed it, the last visit being in December 2008.

Most of the healing work is done outside of the therapist’s office. You just need the therapist to guide you in the right direction and provide you with healing tools. Once you have mastered those tools, you really don’t need therapy any longer.

For example, let’s say I am very triggered. I used to feel like I was free-falling and would do a number of self-destructive things to survive the feeling. Today, I can generally tell that I am triggered within a few hours (if not sooner). Once I know that I am triggered, I can start using my tools. I don’t need to pay my therapist $150 an hour to tell me what to do because I already know how to do it. In fact, the last few times I called him when I was triggered, I had already managed the trigger myself effectively before stepping foot in his office.

Healing is a relative term. As long as you are breathing, you can evolve into a healthier you. In that sense, I will never be “done.” However, I never dreamed when I started therapy in 2003 that I would be doing as well as I am today, and I am only in my early 40’s. I have the whole rest of my life to continue growing and healing.

The same can be true for you. Do the hard work of healing now. Under your therapist’s supervision, do lots of healing work between the sessions. Work toward becoming an independent healer by developing the wonderful tools that your therapist gives you. Then, you will eventually “outgrow” therapy (but will always have that avenue available to you should you feel the need).

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda Bernhardt

On my blog entry entitled Faith Allen’s Story – Refusing Therapy, a reader posted the following question:

Do you find that somethings can just not be done alone? ~ MFF

MFF was referring to whether therapy is necessary in order to heal from some elements of child abuse. The short answer is yes – I do believe that some parts of healing from child abuse require the assistance of a qualified therapist.

As I shared in that blog entry, I was determined not to enter into therapy. However, I found myself finally recognizing that I was in over my head. I simply could not heal from the child abuse alone. I needed an expert to guide me.

A good therapist is going to encourage you to do lots of work between the sessions. My therapist never tried to make me dependent upon him. He gave me the tools I needed to heal. As I learned how to use those tools, I did not need to see him as frequently: I could use the tools he taught me to manage the flashbacks and pain on my own.

Healing from child abuse is simple – You need to love and accept yourself, including your experiences, as you are. That’s it. Of course, this “simple” goal was the most difficult thing that I have ever done (and continue doing). A therapist acts as a guide driving you to this place. He or she helps you dismantle the lies that you have believed throughout your life – lies such as that you are fundamentally unlovable, damaged beyond repair, deserve to suffer, etc. These are all lies, but we child abuse survivors believe them deeply and need an outside person – preferably a professional – to debunk the lies.

I also needed a professional to reassure me that I was not crazy because I truly had my doubts. I flip-flopped daily about whether I believed my flashbacks. My history is so “crazy” that I had a very hard time believing that it truly happened. It was easier to believe that I was “f@#$ed in the head” than to believe that all of these horrible things really happened to me. My therapist grounded me and believed in me when I was not able to believe in myself.

Another reason that a therapist is crucial is because a therapist knows the road map of healing. While we child abuse survivors intuitively know the path to healing, it does not feel “right” to us, so we tend to fight the flow of healing. We need a professional saying that it is a good thing that we are feeling terrible because we are never going to believe that for ourselves.

Also, because my therapist knew the road map, he often knew what was around the bend before I did. I would enter into his office feeling too ashamed to share the latest struggle, but he would intuitively “know” what I was facing because he knew what to expect while I did not.

Therapy is crucial for healing from child abuse. Whether you were abused “only one time” or your childhood was a complete nightmare, you need a therapist to help you heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I had decided to find a therapist, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about finding one. I certainly was not just going to pick a name out of the yellow pages. I confided in a woman at church that I was experiencing flashbacks of sexual abuse, and she asked our pastor (confidentially) for a referral. This therapist (T) worked at a mainstream religious-based counseling center, so I had my doubts about his competence.

I decided to call T and do a phone interview. If he did not believe me over the phone about the existence of mother-daughter sexual abuse, then I would not waste my time meeting him face-to-face. He surprised me by saying that he had previously counseled a patient who had experienced this. He also told me that, while he might have an office at this religious-based counseling center, he was a licensed psychologist with 20+ years of experience in the “secular” world. He was a psychologist first and foremost.

That first session was the most difficult one to attend. Would he believe me? How would I even start? Would he believe that I had no memory whatsoever of the abuse only four weeks before? How would I pay for him without hub noticing? How could I tell hub? I thought about canceling the appointment, but I forced myself to go.

We started by discussing his credentials and then talked about my goals in therapy. I just wanted not to feel crazy any longer. He explained about how therapy works – that I needed to talk about what was upsetting me until I no longer needed to talk about it any longer.

I had a hard time talking about myself. My entire life had always revolved around doing things for other people. I truly did not know how to sit and talk about myself to someone for an hour. I also did not know how to receive someone actually paying attention and “hearing” me.

However, once I started talking, words tumbled out so rapidly that I don’t know how T even kept up. I never saw him take notes, and I am unaware of him recording the sessions. However, he always remembered every detail. He listened, and that was a completely new experience for me.

If you are resisting therapy, don’t. You need to do your homework to find a qualified therapist, and look for one with real qualifications, such as a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. If you are seeking therapy for healing from child abuse, your needs run much deeper than what a well-meaning religious counselor or pastor is capable of offering. You don’t need to hear that an alter part is a “demon” or that you need to “pray away” your symptoms. While faith can be an important part of healing (and it certainly was for me), you need to work with someone with training and education on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).



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To say that I was an emotional wreck is an understatement. I felt like a pressure cooker whose lid had just blown off, and memories and emotions were bursting all over my life. It didn’t help that I was determined to understand and remember what my mother had done.

I would lie in my bed at night during that “half-asleep” phase and ask Irate to tell me what happened. When Irate was not forthcoming, I would visualize seeing a row of locked doors and would force one to have a key. I would unlock the door, open it, and experience a flashback. I had a new one every night for a couple of weeks. While a part of myself felt relieved to start seeing the pieces, I was completely unprepared for the release of the emotions that I had stored away with each memory.

Each memory was another one of my mother harming me. It felt like I was a little girl again and that the abuse was happening to me right now. I would feel the fear, anger, and shame that I felt (or should have been allowed to feel) then. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye during the day. I was absolutely overwhelmed by emotion.

Despite this, I flat refused to search for a therapist. I was waiting to adopt a second child, and I feared that seeing a therapist would make me ineligible to adopt again. (It doesn’t.) I also feared that a therapist would diagnose me as “crazy” and put me in an asylum, where I would be separated from my child. My final fear was that nobody would believe me that a mother would sexually abuse her child. So, in my mind, therapy was not an option, and I would simply heal myself.

I found a great online resource called the Survivor to Thriver manual. I also found a message board called Isurvive that offered free online support in a message board format for anyone who had survived any type of abuse.
Both of these resources told me to get a therapist, but I was determined to do it alone.

Then, about a month into the flashbacks, I found myself lying on the floor in a full-fledged panic attack, shaking uncontrollably, and thinking through the best way to die to end this pain. I finally realized that anything, even therapy and not being able to adopt again, was better than the place that I was in now. I was not going to leave my child without a mother. So, I decided to find a therapist.



Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Finding a Therapist if you have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a reader posted the following comment (I added asterisks to any reference to G*d to help anyone who is triggered by religion):

I did want to say something in regards to Christian therapist, they are not all the same. I see a Christian clinical psychologist who’s priority is to keep me safe and trusting him at all times. He has a masters in theology and knows there is no place for blaming the wounded. G*d does not operate that way. When I am in his office I am taught the reality of a loving G*d who hates what happened to me and never blames me for any part of it. Instead He looks upon me with an endless love that is more than willing to heal me. There is no blame, shame or guilt put upon me for my feelings or whatever they may be. These sessions that are combined with my doctors skill and his spiritual reliance on the power of G*d to heal the brokenhearted, broken in spirit, broken bodies has helped me in so many ways. Sadly, I now see all to clearly how lacking the church is in actually being what Chr*st has called her to be-a place where all can belong and be safe. ~ Sarah

I am sure that there are exceptions to the rule, as Sarah describes, but I stand by my advice that someone who has suffered from child abuse needs to seek out a professional psychologist for therapy and not rely solely on a Christian counselor without a degree in psychology.

The reason for this is that child abuse survivors have suffered from some very serious trauma, and we need therapists who know what they are doing to help guide us through the healing process. Licensed psychologists have been educated about the cause and aftereffects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other related disorders, including dissociative identity disorder (DID). Someone with a divinity degree does not have this kind of training.

If I was diagnosed with cancer, I might meet with my pastor and pray, but I would also seek out an oncologist because I want a specialist in the area of my illness. The same holds true for healing from child abuse. I am happy to receive additional support from clergy (and did when I was healing), but I am going to rely most heavily on the person who has the training and experience in guiding child abuse survivors through the healing process.

I have heard some terrible stories of Christian counselors whose well-meaning but woefully incompetent guidance only made things worse. My sister’s Christian counselor told her to write her “sins” on a piece of paper (her abuse was considered a “sin”) and then burn it. Just as the paper burned, God was removing her “sins” from her soul. When this one activity did not cure my sister’s PTSD, the counselor then told her that she had “Satan on her shoulder.” What a crock of $#%&!

I know people with DID who had Christian counselors tell them that their alter parts were “demons.” Because these people could not “exorcise the demons,” they assumed that their alter parts were condemning them to hell. Again, what a crock of $#%&!

I am a highly educated and intelligent person, and I have even healed from child abuse, but I do not presume to have the tools that a licensed and educated psychologist does. I can offer advice from my personal experience on my blog, but I would not meet with one of you weekly and “play therapist” because I am not qualified to do so. I think it is irresponsible for people who have not been trained as a therapist to presume that they can heal someone’s PTSD just because they have a divinity degree or have taken a couple of night classes on counseling. Guiding someone through healing from child abuse is a much more serious endeavor than premarital counseling.

If you are seeking a therapist, I strongly urge you to find one with the education and experience to help you heal. If you can find one who is also in a Christian practice, that’s great, but don’t assume that the word “counselor” slapped on a door makes the person qualified to help you heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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